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Not the new year we were hoping for – but Celtic Connections can still sparkle in 2021

By Liza Mulholland

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Celtic Connections returns with a series of online concerts and workshops from this week.
Celtic Connections returns with a series of online concerts and workshops from this week.

Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh uile, Happy New Year, and welcome back to my ArtyNess music column and lots more news, views, and happenings in the world of folk, trad, and roots!

What a difference a few weeks can make. Just when live music was taking small tentative recovery steps, Covid numbers rocketed and we are of course back in lockdown, feeling very much as we did in March.

Inverness’s own Ironworks and Botanic House venues had briefly brought back the joys of listening to live music with socially distanced concerts, offering local musicians the chance to do what they love; play in front of an audience.

Musician friends who were involved in those events said they felt a little nervous – it had been so long – but overwhelmingly great to be back onstage.

So, while it feels like nothing much has changed as we embark on 2021, and the hopeful words on the restoration of live music I had hoped to bring you remain frozen on ice, there are nonetheless diamonds in the snow.

The biggie is of course Celtic Connections. The usual epic festival of hundreds of live concerts and workshops across nearly three weeks, attracting over 100,000 music lovers, was, like all festivals, cancelled some time ago but, in a tour de force effort, the team have pulled together an ambitious online version of digital content.

Late last year, before lockdown, bands and artistes were brought to some of Glasgow’s best-loved venues and filmed and recorded, socially distanced, in concert as it were. These concerts will be streamed online, along with New Voices commissions and a series of online workshops in a variety of instruments.

The festival will also feature performances by international musicians who were recorded remotely in their own countries.

Director Donald Shaw’s words – ‘The concept… was borne out of a desire to promote wellbeing and optimism amongst fellow musicians as much as it was about still being able to offer entertainment to our loyal Celtic Connections audiences during the dark nights of January’ – undoubtedly strike a chord and offer hope to us musicians, and sound, tech and lighting engineers, that, after the hardest year of our careers, there is indeed a future within the industry.

The logistical, technical, and artistic challenges of delivering this incarnation of the festival will have been immense but which I have no doubt will be well rewarded with a huge global audience. Thousands who normally travel from far-flung corners to attend Celtic Connections will be joined by many more tuning in for the first time.

A good value one-off pass gives access to all the concerts and I’m thrilled to have been kindly gifted mine by a friend at Christmas. Workshops are priced individually. Running from Friday, January 15 to Tuesday, February 2, this lantern of light is not to be missed.

For tickets, see www.celticconnections.com

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